Jonathan Dobres

x-men re-examined: enter magneto

Air date: November 27, 1992

Magneto, the Master of Magnetism. The X-Men’s original nemesis, all the way back to issue #1 in 1963.1 For eighteen years, he was your bog standard arch-villain, trying to take over the world, scheming against the forces of good, etc. And then in 1981, Chris Claremont retconned Magneto into a Holocaust survivor, making him a tragic villain/antihero. That improved backstory, plus the magnetic (I’m sorry) interpretations of Magneto from Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender (both the best performances in their respective films), have given the character an outsized presence in nerd culture ever since.

You get none of that in “Enter Magneto”. Xavier simply says that Magneto is “the survivor of a war.” The Holocaust was too heavy a subject to drop on the show’s intended audience, so we get Magneto the Mustache Twirler instead. Even weirder, none of the X-Men, save Xavier, even know who he is.

This version of Magneto is heavy on dramatic entrances and grand pronouncements, but pretty light on action. He easily breaches Beast’s holding cell at the Mutant Control Agency, but Beast insists on waiting for his day in court. “What chance does a mutant have,” Magneto says as he bats away the MCA’s laser fire, “Are these the people whose laws you trust?”

At the bail hearing, Beast quotes The Merchant of Venice and tells the court that the X-Men’s raid was in response to the MCA abducting innocent mutants.2 The judge is unmoved and bail is denied. The show portrays this as bigotry, but neither of Beast’s points is a sound legal argument (regardless of whether they were just), so what was he expecting? Either way, it looks like Magneto was right…about the trial, I mean.

Because this is a Saturday morning cartoon and the show needs more to do, Sabretooth appears out of nowhere as court is letting out and starts wrecking the joint. Conveniently, Cyclops and Wolverine were already there, and quickly subdue the raging man-animal, who I must point out is wearing a costume that makes Jean Grey’s look Amish.

Wolverine has history with this half-naked berserker, it turns out, and hates him. When the X-Men take him back to the mansion to help him recuperate (apparently the cops were not interested in detaining a man who destroyed a courtroom), Wolverine tries to kill him a second time. Once again, Wolverine nearly comes to blows with the team, but just then, Xavier becomes aware that Magneto is attempting to invade a military base. Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine rush off, but not before Wolverine gets in a nice dig at Xavier: “How come we’re supposed to trash your old enemy, but we gotta go easy on mine?”

The episode’s third act is pretty perfunctory. Magneto singlehandedly takes over the base, forces its staff to flee, and arms the missiles, all without ever even stepping inside. “Better that we die on our feet than live on our knees,” he tells the X-Men before flying away. Storm diverts the missiles into the conveniently nearby ocean (very conveniently aided by psychic knowledge from Cerebro), and we’re out. The episode ends with Magneto on a hillside, melodramatically lamenting that the X-Men, though well trained and capable, are betraying their own kind.

Compared to the jam-packed premiere, this episode feels like a stumble. It’s very talky, and the action is uninspired, mainly because Magneto is unstoppably powerful. Nothing even slows him down, let alone presents a credible challenge. Had he stuck around at the base, he’d have had no trouble dispatching our heroes. It’s almost as if he set up a problem and then left on purpose, to test dear old Xavier’s students…

Now That’s What I Call ’90s: Unbelievably, Cyclops’s “NOT!” joke from the previous episode makes it into the “Previously On…”

  1. I just realized that here in 2024, we are farther from the debut of this cartoon than the cartoon was from its 1963 source material. Now if you’ll excuse me, I obviously need to go put down a deposit on a burial plot. 

  2. Specifically, Beast quotes one of The Merhcant of Venice’s most famous lines: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Let it not be lost on us that this comes from Shylock’s monologue in defense of Jews. Someone on the writing staff is keeping the dream of Magneto the Antihero alive.